James M. Sleeth
Sleeth, James M., a prominent citizen of Shelbyville, was born in Clarksburg, Harrison County,
Virginia, March 24, 1817. At a very early day his mother died, and his father removed, in the year
1824, to Shelbyville, Indiana, which then consisted of a few wooden buildings.
James attended such
schools as they had in those primitive days during the winter months, and worked at farming during the
spring and summer. By applying himself diligently to his books he became very proficient in reading,
and writing, spelling, and arithmetic. With this meager outfit he set out to make his own way through
the world. Having a taste for mercantile pursuits, he engaged in the capacity of clerk in a country
store, but soon abandoned that for the reading of law. He applied himself to this task with all his faculties, and with such earnestness that, in 1842, he passed a most rigid examination and was licensed
to practice in all the courts of Indiana. After three years spent in the pursuit of his profession he was
elected, in 1845, to the Legislature, and so faithfully did he perform his duty that he received the
nomination the second time, and was reelected in 1847. In 1848 Governor Whitcomb choose him
as his private secretary, which devolved upon him the duty of being executive messenger to both
houses of the Legislature. One year later he was nominated and elected state Senator, and served
one long term of three sessions. He was chosen for the second time in 1851. In the last named year
he made a speech which was spoken of in very high terms. We extract the following from a letter of
Hon. T. A. Hendricks, written to Mr. Sleeth soon thereafter: "I read your speech upon the resolution about the trophies taken in Mexico with much pleasure. I was glad you made the speech. Re-
presenting in the Senate a county that always sustained the war by "word and deed," and a country
that is proud of its position in relation to that war, it was highly becoming in you to make just the
speech you did, and you will allow me to say that I think you did yourself much credit, and the
subject more justice than any other speech I read." In 1853 he was elected Judge of the Court of
Common Pleas, which position he creditably filled for eight years. In 1869 he was again sent to
the Legislature, to represent the counties of Bartholomew and Shelby. A still higher mark of
confidence was shown in his election, by the people of Shelby County, as their county treasurer, and his
re-election to the same position in 1873. The Judge is not a member of any religious organization,
but attends service with his wife, who is a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Judge
ranks among the earliest settlers of Shelby County, and is a man whose personal qualities and acts
have helped to shape the character of the place, and whose influence has always been good.
In business matters he is prompt and thorough, and a distinguishing characteristic with him is his practical
opposition to the credit system. Though almost entirely self-educated, he gained, while in practice,
high rank among the lawyers of his adopted county. He was married, June 13, 1839, to Miss
Almyra Goodrich, daughter of William and Catherine Goodrich, who settled in Shelby
County in 1827. They have no children.
A Biographical History of Eminent and Self-Made Men of the State of Indiana with
Many Portrait-Illustrations on steel, volume II. Cincinnati, Ohio : Western Biographical Pub Co, 1880.
Data Entry Volunteer: Edward Sinker.